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The Five Hundred is Ford's interpretation of the modern American sedan. Some of its styling cues may remind you of the Taurus, which for many years was the best-selling car in the United States. But Ford's new flagship is larger and more substantial and comes with much more standard equipment.
The Five Hundred boasts a body structure and safety technology developed by Volvo and first used on Volvo's S80 luxury sedan and then for its highly acclaimed XC90 sport utility vehicle. Ford acquired the Swedish automaker famous for its passenger-protecting innovations in 1999. When it came time to develop the Five Hundred (and its upscale cousin, the Mercury Montego), Ford imported Volvo's best structural and safety engineers to work on the project. The Five Hundred is available with a choice of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, the latter giving it more stable handling and better traction, particularly in inclement weather.
Ford developed the Five Hundred as a successor to the Taurus and to compete with cars such as the brand new Chrysler 300, the venerable Toyota Avalon, and the aging Chevrolet Impala. The Five Hundred is larger, more modern and more upscale than the Taurus for just slightly more money.
The Five Hundred's cabin offers the interior space of a full-size car. The driver sits relatively high, and the roomy front seats offer a commanding view of the road. Back-seat passengers will not complain about being cramped, either. The back seats fold down to increase cargo capacity. The Five Hundred's V6 engine delivers sufficient power for most buyers. The six-speed automatic transmission that comes standard helps the engine deliver responsive performance and good fuel economy. All-wheel-drive models come with a continually variable transmission that performs the same feat.
Ford first used the Five Hundred designation in numerical form on the highest trim version of its 1957 Fairlane model and the car helped Ford overtake Chevrolet in the sales race. When Ford launched a new flagship, the Galaxie, in 1959, it again used the "500" badge to indicate the most upscale version. Now, Ford brings back the Five Hundred (spelled out) as a separate model and as the new flagship of its fleet of cars.
Compared to the Taurus, the Five Hundred is more than three inches longer, an inch and a half wider and four inches taller. It also rides on a wheelbase that is 4.5 inches longer, which not only gives the car its solid, luxury-car stance but enhances smooth ride quality.
The chief designer says it was a challenge to sculpt a Ford-styled body around a Volvo chassis, and adds that designers used what he calls "plainer surfaces with taut lines" to give the car a modern look without losing its passenger car proportions. The Five Hundred's rounded forms offer a definite alternative to the more upright, angular Chrysler 300.
The Five Hundred's face has large, jewel-styled and multi-bulb triangular headlight elements on either side of a wide, trapezoidal grille. Chrome accents the front edges of the bumper. There are similar chrome accents on the rear bumper and another that bisects the doors and provides a visual bridge between slightly flared wheel arches. Chrome also frames the side windows, which include large third windows that give the Five Hundred more of a luxury car profile.
The tall trunk lid has a spoiler-like lip along its top trailing edge. The rear of the car features large, multi-element and triangular shaped tail lamps and dual, down turned exhaust tips.
The SE and SEL ride on seven-spoke aluminum wheels and Continental tires while the Limited gets distinctive eight-spoke 18-inch wheels and Pirelli tires.
The Five Hundred is part of Ford's strategy to replace the old Taurus with more specialized vehicles that better fit the needs of individual buyers. Those who need even more space for people and cargo can opt for the Freestyle, a crossover wagon based on the Five Hundred. Those who want a smaller and less expensive vehicle will next year be able to get the Fusion, another mid-size sedan that's smaller than the Taurus.
Although the 2005 Ford Five Hundred's exterior is a foot shorter than the full-size Ford Crown Victoria sedan, the new car has nearly as much passenger room (107.1 cubic feet for the Five Hundred vs. 108.2 for the Crown Vic). The Five Hundred also has a larger trunk (21.1 cu. ft.) that can hold eight sets of golf clubs, should it be your week to caddie the high school golf team's equipment to the course.
One very impressive statistic about the Five Hundred's interior is that it provides the same leg room, 41.3 inches, in both the front and rear seats. That rear-seat legroom is enhanced because the front seats are mounted above the rear floor, leaving room for your feet underneath.
Those front seats are mounted on a Volvo-devised cross-body beam that runs from the bottom of the B pillar (the post between the front and rear doors) that adds strength to the car's shell and that helps provide protection in the event of a side impact.
Each of the car's four doors has a beverage holder, and additional cup holders are located in the center console between the front seats with two more in the center console that folds down from the back of the back middle seat.
The rear seatbacks fold forward to provide enlarged luggage space, and the front passenger's seat (SEL and Limited versions) also folds down to provide space for a 10-foot long ladder or other object to fit inside the Five Hundred with the trunk lid closed.
All seats feature what Ford calls "command" view of the road, with seat bottom cushions that are some four inches higher than those of a typical mid-sized sedan, yet some two inches closer to the road than those in the Freestyle crossover wagon.
The dashboard has a covered storage compartment in its top center section. The center stack has audio controls at the top with climate and other controls beneath. The dashboard has either silver or wood-grain trim with metal used for the door releases and around the base and top of the gear shift lever. We found the switchgear well designed and easy to use.
One cautionary note (well, actually two of them): A steeply raked windshield can reflect a lot of glare off the top of the dashboard (at least it did in the car we drove with a tan-colored "Pebble" interior; "Shale" and "Black" interiors also are available), and a driver wearing sunglasses can have trouble reading the darkly colored gauges in the SE and SEL models. The Limited has much easier to read light-face gauges.
Paired with the six-speed automatic transmission, the Five Hundred's 3.0-liter V6 provides more than sufficient power to propel this good-sized sedan, even with four adults on board. You can squeal the tires and race away from a stoplight, or push down your right foot and the transmission quickly downshifts as the engine responds with the power you need for passing, or for accelerating onto a freeway.
The engine lets you know it's there when you put your foot down, but the car is very quiet when cruising along, and we never had to raise our voices to carry on a conversation with those sitting beside, behind or in front of us. We did a stint in the back seat as well as the driver's and front passenger's seats. All seats were comfortable and supportive even after several hours in the car.
The Five Hundred's long wheelbase, independent front and rear suspension and stiff chassis work well together. Steering is nicely weighted and provides good feedback. The disc brakes are impressively effective. The Five Hundred comes standard with anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, which optimizes front/rear brake bias to shorten stopping distances. Also helping to reduce stopping distances is the size of the brakes: 12.5-inch discs with double-piston calipers on the front wheels and 13.0-inch discs in the rear.
While we spent most our time in the front-wheel-drive version, we did take time to try an all-wheel-drive Five Hundred on a dirt hill in a rock quarry, where Ford had set up a comparison demonstration between its Freestyle crossover and some of its competitors. While one of the competitor crossovers spun its wheels and struggled mightily to climb the slippery hill, the all-wheel-drive Five Hundred sedan went right up and over. While you may not need to tear through rock quarries, you may need to drive through snow, and the Five Hundred should handle winter travel well. All-wheel drive also helps in the rain, where it stabilizes the handling of the car.
The new Ford Five Hundred delivers full-size interior space in a mid-size car. Back seat passengers won't be cramped, and there's plenty of room for luggage. Its V6 engine delivers sufficient power and its transmissions help the engine perform well while achieving fuel-efficiency.
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